A week ago I discussed writing in first person. As I said, the rules are there to be manipulated and this week I’d like to discuss second person. There is a trend towards using second person in parts of a story, but only you will know if that works for your story.
It is not for the faint of heart, the sissies, the doubters, the haters. It is there for those who don’t ask questions, who don’t doubt, who are either literary geniuses or blissfully ignorant. If you get it right, it is beautiful. If you get it wrong: hugs all round.
This is not easy and I am hesitant to include examples, but here we go:
Example OneYou want this. You want him. You lean closer. His breath is warm on the back of your neck. You shiver as he trails small kisses down your shoulder. His hands are warm as they span your waist. You close your eyes. You turn around and press closer as you wrap your arms around his neck and pull his head down to yours. You don’t open your eyes. This is too perfect. You could never have imagined, ok, you did imagine. Plenty of times, but this is just amazing. His lips are soft. He devours you. You’ve wanted this for so long. He pulls back, tapering off with small kisses. His hand loose on your hips. You smile and slowly open your eyes.“Jonathan?”He frowns and takes his hands away. “Who did you think it was?”
Example TwoYou wait, you slow your breathing and time the beats. The little red spike bounces across the screen in a perfect pattern. Each beep confirming the presence of life. You flex your fingers, mimicking the rhythm of the heart as you inhale and plunge your hand into the gaping hole. Your fingers slip around the pulsing muscle and nestle in the soft tissue below. You pull. The heart detaches and pulses a last time and shudders as the severed arteries empty themselves into nothingness.“Nurse, the jar please.” You look closer. “This is a fine specimen.”The heart plops into the jar with a gentle bounce. You turn to your patient and cover him with the blue sheet. Wiping your elbow on his chest to catch a mischievous drop of blood.
Can you see what second person does?
- It creates an intrusive intimacy, a closeness with your reader that is, well, shudder-inducing. It reels you in and then it climbs inside. Some say first person is the closest you get. But, for me, second person takes it a step further or should that be closer? I can distance myself from first person; that ME isn’t me. But, when the YOU is used, it is almost too close.
- This has a vice-versa effect. It is also easier to distance yourself. Weird, right? You won’t feel connected to what is happening because you might not be able to relate to the scenario. Remember what I said about literary genius?
- You also run the risk of confusing your reader and it can become exhausting and feel relentless. Many people simply don’t like it. I enjoy it. I like getting freaked out, but only for a little while.
If you want to experiment, try a prompt in a viewpoint you aren’t comfortable with. Write the same scene in first, second, and third person. It’s amazing how the focus changes with each viewpoint.